Frank Morris recently produced a great piece for NPR about opposition to California’s efforts to improve the living conditions of egg-laying chickens. As he describes,
most U.S. hens live crammed into very close quarters, according to Joe Maxwell, with the Humane Society of the U.S. And he says that’s just wrong.
“There are some things we should not do to animals,” says Maxwell.
California voters felt the same way, and six years ago they passed Proposition 2, requiring California producers to provide cages that are almost twice as large as most chickens have now. The Legislature followed that with a law requiring that all eggs sold in California be raised under those conditions.
Six farm-country states have joined a lawsuit against California over the issue, with support from other parts of the animal-ag business. As Morris details,
Don Nikodim with the Missouri Pork Association calls it “a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause.”
Now, why would pig farmers care about henhouse restrictions?
Because when a huge state like California slaps restrictions on food it imports, farmers all over the country become alarmed. And Nikodim says this won’t likely stop with eggs.
“Logically, the next step is, we should extend our authority on how you produce pork to other states as well,” he says. “Then is it dairy, is it beef, is it corn — go down the list.”
Nikodim is worried that restrictions on cramped pig stalls, called gestation crates, may come next.
Check out the full piece here.
NPR’s Dan Charles has filed a number of thoughtful reports on modern agriculture, including the use of antibiotics in factory farming of livestock. Another one hit the airwaves and web yesterday:
It’s one of the most controversial practices in agriculture: feeding small amounts of antibiotics to animals in order to make them grow faster.
But what if the drugs don’t even work very well?
There’s some good evidence that they don’t, at least in pigs. They used to deliver a boost in growth, but that effect has disappeared in recent years or declined greatly.
The reason for this is interesting and even paradoxical.
Head here for the full audio and text versions of the story.
“You are what your food eats.” That’s the headline for this audio story from Harvest Public Media. In it, reporter Jessica Naudziunas visits two locations to report on livestock being fed their breakfast. The first stop is the University of Missouri’s Swine Teaching Facility, where the pigs get a carefully controlled diet comprised primarily of corn and soybean meal with some vitamin and mineral supplements. That’s not all pigs may be fed, though. As the report notes, per FDA regulations “if a feed producer wants to, polyethylene—plastic—can be used as a roughage replacement.” In the MU facility, the pigs’ feed includes rendered pig products (like bone and blood).
As described by MU Swine Nutrition Specialist Marcia Shannon, “When they process and slaughter pigs for market, we use everything out of that.” The report continues: “Pig blood is dried, cooked and then used as a supplement in the animal feed these pigs had for breakfast today. Shannon says it’s a cheap way to make the feed more digestible and protein rich. ‘What we’re trying to do is basically take a not very valuable protein source and convert it into a more valuable protein source, because we as humans aren’t going to eat blood—we’re not going to sit down and drink a bowl of blood soup, but you know, we’ll sit down and enjoy a nice bacon cheeseburger.'”
Talk about food for thought, huh? On the one hand, it seems not only reasonable but admirable to put every last bit of a slaughtered pig to use. And yet, there’s something creepily cannibalistic about feeding dried pig blood back to pigs. And then there’s Shannon’s assertion that “as humans” we won’t eat animal blood. In fact, many cultures not only include animal blood as a protein source (including the traditional diet of the Maasai), but it’s the key ingredient in sausage and even soup in a host of world cuisines. While the typical modern American diet may not include animal blood as a protein source, that doesn’t make its consumption any more inhuman than eating “a nice bacon cheeseburger.”
The second half of the Harvest Public Media story makes a stop at Sally Angell’s cattle farm in Centralia, Missouri. Like the visit to the MU research facility, it’s an interesting and informative look at the raising of livestock. If you have a few minutes, give the story a listen.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away this week. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared on December 5, 2011.